Category: CIS News

The Best of 2020

Though 2020 brought challenges around the world, we are proud of all that our College has accomplished this year! Here are just a few of the honors and achievements we are celebrating:

  • Our public relations program was named the Most Outstanding Education Program in the country by PRWeek.
  • C&IS had nearly $8 million worth of research grant submissions this year, which is the most we have ever seen as a college.
  • In just under three days, donors, who included C&IS faculty, staff, students, alumni and friends, contributed more than $15,000 to this year’s Bama Blitz passion project and exceeded our fundraising goal.
  • The Center for Public Television received 6 Emmy nominations and 1 win.
  • Two C&IS Advertising students were named to the AAF Most Promising Multicultural Students Class of 2020.
  • Capstone Agency was named the top student-run agency for their 3rdconsecutive opportunity.
  • SLIS raised more than $23,200 in new free books to School Libraries in the Black Belt and Beyond.
  • A $325,000 renovation enhanced meeting and laboratory space for the Institute for Communication and Information Research and the Office for Graduate Studies.
  • 68 alumni and industry professionals committed to serving as Oakley Society Mentors.

We owe much of our success to the support of you—our alumni and friends. Thank you for making this a year worth celebrating!

C&IS Posts Record Retention Rate for 2019-20 Freshman Class

C&IS Living Learning Community students attend class in their residential community, John England Jr. Hall.*

The College of Communication and Information Sciences (C&IS) is pleased to announce that—through the collective hard work of faculty, staff and C&IS supporters—it has achieved 90.3% first-to-second-year retention rate among the Fall 2019 cohort.

This means that 90.3% of the Fall 2019 C&IS first-time, full-time students returned to The University of Alabama for the Fall 2020 semester. The retention rate breaks the University’s institutional goal of 90% retention and continues a positive trend of steady increase at C&IS in the past four years, an overall increase from 85.4% in 2016.

“It’s impossible to attribute this success to any one specific variable,” said Dr. Sara Hartley, associate professor and associate dean for undergraduate studies and external relations at C&IS. “But I am confident that our efforts in recruiting highly qualified students, centralizing academic advising for the first two years, and our additional outreach and engagement opportunities for students have made a tremendous impact. This shows us that the intentional work is paying off in a big way.”

In other words, a collective effort from a variety of internal and external C&IS supporters made this possible.

For more than 5 years, C&IS freshman and sophomores have received academic advising support through the College’s three professional academic advisors, part of Tisch Student Services and External Relations. Furthermore, Tisch takes a holistic approach in advising all C&IS students and works to support students in the classroom and beyond the classroom.

Additionally, C&IS works tirelessly to enhance the student experience through its nationally recognized student organizations, travel programs and professional development workshops. On top of this, the College recently launched a living learning community and Freshman Interest Groups (C&IS FIGs) to provide even more opportunities for the first-year student population. Combine all of these things together and the results speak for themselves.

Lastly, strengthening these areas of institutional support, C&IS donors have been tremendously impactful in their generosity. The notable increase in scholarship support ensures that some of the students who face financial challenges are able to remain enrolled.

These results also come as a bit of a surprise as some had predicted nationwide retention rates to fall this year due to the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic. Not only did the retention rate see a notable increase from last year, the pattern appears now to be holding steady for Spring 2021 with numbers similar to what C&IS saw in the months preceding Fall 2020.

When a high school senior leaves home for their freshman year of college, they lack a full picture of what their first-year experience will be like. The recruitment brochures and the on-campus visits are tremendously helpful in filling in the gaps, but they won’t truly know what it’s like to be on campus until they’ve spent a full year there. First-year-to-second-year retention rates are meaningful indicators of a positive student experience because they indicate that the student has completed their first year on campus and decided to return for the next chapter.

“We love to see retention rates increase and hold steady because these numbers represent individuals with unique stories and personal, academic goals,” said Hartley. “Returning to C&IS for their second year demonstrates that these students trust this institution to help them achieve these goals on their path to the extraordinary.”


*This picture was taken in Fall, 2019—prior to Covid-19 precautionary measures.

Communication and Information Sciences Hall of Fame Inductees Announced

The University of Alabama College of Communication and Information Sciences will hold its biennial Hall of Fame Ceremony on Friday, February 19, 2021 as a virtual induction ceremony and celebration of the honorees.

The 2020 class of inductees includes Nancy Parker Boyd, E. Culpepper Clark, Jan Crawford and Bryan Stevenson.

Admission is open to the public. General admission tickets can be purchased for $75 and will provide ticket holders access to the induction ceremony at 7 p.m. CST. Premium tickets can be purchased for $150 and include access to the ceremony and an exclusive, virtual cocktail hour at 6 p.m. CST with a live Q&A with the 2020 Hall of Fame inductees. Premium ticket holders will also receive a special C&IS Hall of Fame gift box prior to the event.

For more information and to purchase tickets or to sponsor the event, visit the C&IS website here.

The 2020 Class:

Nancy Parker Boyd, award-winning journalist, children’s book author and community hero.

E. Culpepper Clark, former C&IS Dean, distinguished author, historian and educator.

Jan Crawford, CBS Chief Legal Correspondent, New York Times best-selling author and United States Supreme Court expert.

Bryan Stevenson, lawyer, founder of the Equal Justice Initiative and social justice activist.

About the Hall of Fame:

Established by the College’s Board of Visitors in 1998, the Communication and Information Sciences Hall of Fame was created to honor, preserve and perpetuate the names and accomplishments of individuals who have brought lasting fame to the state of Alabama through the application of disciplines taught, researched and practiced in the College.

JCM Students Join Mock Press Conference with Alabama Public Safety Officers

Five students from the Department of Journalism and Creative Media participated in a mock press conference with public safety officers from across the state of Alabama last Friday, November 13.

Hosted by the Alabama Fire College in Tuscaloosa, the event provides an opportunity for University of Alabama students to gain valuable live-interview experience as public information officers from the Alabama Public Safety Leadership Academy (APSLA) simultaneously receive a test in having to answer their questions.

“I’ve had a relationship with the APSLA and conducted this training with them using RTDNA members and students from my classes since 2014,” said Dr. Chandra Clark. “It’s really good training for both. Future and current public information officers practice responding to the media with different safety and pressing issues, and our student “reporters” drill them to try to get the answers they need for their stories.”

The students who participated in this event are Lacey Beasley, Crimson Jeffers, Hannah Jones, T.J. Ross and Martha Glen Sease.

“There’s not many opportunities to practice being a member of the press in news conferences—you typically just jump right in and hope your experience interviewing for stories will translate to a conference,” said Sease. “The members of the APSLA kept thanking us for coming and letting them practice, and I’m not sure they realized until we were able to speak more with them that they were also helping us.”

With the amount of hands-on educational experiences being limited by the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic, the students jumped at the opportunity to assist the APSLA in the press conference—maintaining appropriate social distancing and wearing the necessary protective face masks.

“It was great to have exposure to real-life scenarios that could happen in a real news conference with first responders and officials,” said Ross. “This was a really fun and educational experience.”

The Alabama Public Safety Leadership Academy exists to broaden and enhance the management and leadership skills of select members of Alabama’s public safety agencies through a directed program exposing members to key strategic elements relevant to public safety organizational success.

Research Spotlight: Dr. Jiyoung Lee

When the coronavirus pandemic hit the scene in the United States in early 2020, many were completely unfamiliar with the virus, and few had experienced a real public health crisis—certainly not one of this scale. Seemingly overnight, Americans all became familiar with terminology such as “flattening the curve,” and “social distancing.” As shutdowns and mask mandates swept across the nation, the country braced for a long and uncertain fight.

Information about the virus, preventative measures and protocols flooded social media platforms. With countless sources reporting information on a novel strain of a virus, many of the articles, tweets, Facebook posts and Instagram live videos seemed to conflict. There was an abundance of good information out there to be read and understood, but there was also a lot of harmful misinformation.

For C&IS assistant professor Dr. Jiyoung Lee (journalism and creative media), there has never been a clearer need for her research. Primarily, her research areas include emerging media (such as social media or interactive media) and the way these media affect the way the public understands health misinformation or misinformation in general.

“I have particularly noted that whenever we faced this pandemic and other risky situation, we feel anxiety and are so uncertain,” said Lee. “And I have realized this kind of fear and anxiety actually leads us to believe the unverified information.”

According to Lee, people believe what they want to believe as a way of managing the anxiety, uncertainty or perception of risk they are feeling in a moment of crisis. And readily available information on social media can hurt—rather than help—a crisis situation as it evolves.

“Social media was designed to help people connect with each other, but users can definitely just be exposed to information that they want to see,” said Lee. “Probably because filtering algorithms oftentimes just show the information users have an interest in seeing, and social media allows people to connect only with the people they want to connect with.”

As a quantitative scholar, Lee uses online surveys and experiments as well as compensation analyses to study Facebook and Twitter posts. Lee’s passion and curiosity for this research area are driven by her interest in emotions and risk perception. Concerning emotions, one observation Lee has made about the ongoing pandemic situation is the way that it is causing many to react angrily. A current study of hers focuses on whether or not the anger people feel about a situation makes the more vulnerable to believing misinformation.

Another emotional issue seen during the pandemic is the effect that the large availability of information from different sources has on social media users. According to Lee, vast amounts of sources and articles leave many feeling exhausted from “information overload,” regardless of whether or not the information they are consuming is accurate. And this can hinder whether or not they seek out additional information.

“If people feel that they do not have the capacity to process more information, they don’t want to seek out new information. Then they just think about the situation based on the information they already have,” said Lee. “The most important thing to avoid right now is being a passive audience—even if they are exhausted and afraid. I encourage people to seek out information with greater force and double-check everything.”

As the coronavirus pandemic continues on, understanding how to find accurate information and avoid information overload is vitally important. To see some helpful tips from Dr. Jiyoung Lee, check out our video below. For more information on Lee’s research, you can check out her website here.

The College of Communication and Information Sciences’ faculty and students at The University of Alabama conduct cutting-edge research that creates knowledge and provides solutions to global issues across the full communication and information spectrum. To learn more about the College’s research initiatives, visit cis.ua.edu/research.

Speak-off Winners Announced

The Public Speaking Program conducted its’ annual fall Speak Off competition. This competition was based on students currently enrolled in the COM 123 public speaking course and nominated by their lab instructor. The nominees’ video submissions were judged by Dr. Alexa Chilcutt, Director of the Public Speaking Program, and Dr. Adam Brooks, Director of The Speaking Studio. Winners were announced on October 19th.

First place and a $300 cash prize were awarded to Rachel Truex, who delivered an informative speech on Tornadoes and Tornado safety.

“My speech about tornado warning systems and how to stay safe in severe weather situations was inspired by my long-time fascination with tornadoes, and I really enjoyed writing it,” said Truex. “I knew that my genuine interest in the topic would show in my delivery of the speech, but I never thought I would even place, let alone win. It means a lot to me that I was even nominated, but winning had never crossed my mind!”

You can view Truex’s speech, submitted to the judges via YouTube below.

A full list of the 2020 Speak Off winners are listed below:

  • First Place $300 Oscar Newton Award Fund – Rachel Truex. Rachel is a sophomore majoring in Elementary Education.
  • 2nd $200 – Bailey Smith is a senior majoring in Dance Psychology and minoring in Biology.
  • 3rd $100 – Chet Wiltshire is a junior majoring in Aerospace Engineering.
  • 4th $50 – Camille Kahtala is a junior majoring in Kinesiology and minoring in Exercise Science.
  • 5th $50 – Tejas Dinesh is a senior majoring in Environmental Engineering History and minoring in Social Innovation and Leadership.

Capstone Agency Named Top Student-Run Firm by PRSSA (Again)

The University of Alabama’s Capstone Agency has been awarded Best Student-Run Firm by the Public Relations Student Society of America (PRSSA).

Given annually by PRSSA, this award evaluates firms based on their agency operations, billable hours, client work, client revenue, professional development opportunities for members, agency culture and pro bono work.

“I am so proud of the agency’s dedicated and hard-working members that continue to go above and beyond for our clients,” said Capstone Agency firm director, Kathleen McManus. “This award is a reflection of the agency’s resiliency and swift transition to the virtual world.”

This is the third time Capstone Agency has been awarded top firm by PRSSA (2018, 2016). Because firms are not permitted to win in consecutive years, this marks the third win in the last three opportunities for Capstone Agency.

“Capstone Agency personifies the very best of who we are as a department and showcases the kind of professionals we want our students to become,” said Dr. Damion Waymer, chair, Department of Advertising and Public Relations (APR). “This accomplishment, of which we are very proud, is affirmation that we are making continual progress toward achieving our aspirational departmental goals.”

This announcement comes during a banner year for UA’s APR department, which was named the Most Outstanding Education Program by PRWeek during the 2020 PRWeek Awards, and had two students recognized as top-5 finalists for the Most Outstanding PR Student Award.

Also recognized by PRSSA, The University of Alabama’s PRSSA Chapter was awarded Best Website. Their website can be viewed here: https://www.uaprssa.org

Capstone Agency is a nationally affiliated, student-run, integrated communications agency comprised of top students at The University of Alabama. The agency has been a student organization in the College of Communication and Information Sciences since 2008. To learn more about Capstone Agency, visit capstoneagency.org.

The Department of Advertising and Public Relations is a part of the College of Communication and Information Sciences at The University of Alabama. To learn more about C&IS, visit cis.ua.edu.

C&IS Associate Professor named the Broadcast Education Association’s Faculty Fellow of Diversity and Inclusion

Dr. George L. Daniels, an associate professor in the Department of Journalism and Creative Media, was recently named the Broadcast Education Association’s (BEA) inaugural Faculty Fellow of Diversity and Inclusion.

Daniels is a former assistant dean for administration and chief diversity officer for The University of Alabama College of Communication and Information Sciences (C&IS). Under his leadership, the College received the Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communication’s Equity and Diversity Award. Upon receiving this award, Daniels published an article in BEA’s Journal of Media Education where he discussed the initiatives and strategies C&IS employed to improve diversity and inclusion within the College.

As an alum of Howard University, a historically Black university, Daniels has a personal connection to BEA’s commitment to racial justice, diversity, and inclusivity. BEA provides free institutional memberships to historically Black colleges and universities (HBCU) and aims to build relationships with HBCUs and Hispanic-serving institutions (HSI). As the Faculty Fellow of Diversity and Inclusion, Daniels plans to organize campus visits to non-participating HBCUs and HSIs to help faculty and students learn about the advantages of their free institutional membership.

“I want to take an active role in making sure others from historically under-represented racial groups can experience these same benefits of being a part of the Broadcast Education Association,” Daniels said. “I look forward to working with the BEA Board of Directors and the Diversity and Inclusion Committee as we get started on this effort.”

Daniels’ two-year term as the BEA Faculty Fellow of Diversity and Inclusion begins immediately.

BEA was established in 1955 and is the premier international academic media organization. BEA drives insights, excellence in media production and career advancement for educators, students and professionals.

The College of Communication and Information Sciences is committed to promoting an environment that fosters diversity and inclusion and is proud of the efforts of our faculty, staff and students. To learn more about C&IS, visit cis.ua.edu.

C&IS Graduate Student Wins Best Student Film at DC Black Film Festival

Elroy Johnson, a journalism master’s student in the College of Communication and Information Sciences (C&IS), recently won best student film for his documentary “Building the Bridge” at the DC Black Film Festival in Washington, D.C.

The film highlights the experiences of three African American teenage boys in a Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM)-based program. It explores the lack of exposure youth of color have to STEM opportunities and what community members, educators and parents are doing to address this concern in the Dallas neighborhood of Oak Cliff, Texas. Johnson, a Dallas native who currently works as a social studies teacher in the city, was first inspired to document Oak Cliff due to a family connection: his parents grew up in the neighborhood.

As an educator, Johnson realized that there was a need within his community of Oak Cliff for a conversation about educational equity and disparity. He saw an opportunity to document students from underrepresented groups in particular as a way to engage the community on the students’ need for STEM resources.

“There are definitely organizations and educators that are trying to engage students with STEM opportunities – particularly students that are marginalized that are not as reached in this area,” Johnson said, “There’s also a lack of actually knowing how to find these resources. There’s a disconnect in some ways with [students] knowing where to access these resources and how to use them.”

Johnson’s film helps to highlight the efforts of Oak Cliff community members in showcasing STEM resources and addressing the issue of educational disparity.

After completing his master’s degree, Johnson plans to continue storytelling through documentaries and films focused on education and other social issues.

The film is sponsored by the City of Dallas Office of Arts and Culture. To view the trailer for the award-winning documentary, click here.

The DC Black Film Festival exhibits film, web series and television content by and about people of African descent. The festival is committed to discovering, celebrating and helping films and filmmakers.

Center for Public Television Wins Emmy Award

A production team from The University of Alabama Center for Public Television (CPT) won an Emmy award on Saturday, September 12 for their short documentary “Visual Vernacular”.

The team comprises students Kailey New (Fort Payne, AL) and Liam Parker (Northport, NY), and CPT staff members Seth Farmer and William Green. They worked in collaboration with communication studies associate professor Dr. Darrin Griffin to find the topic for the project.

“Visual Vernacular” was inspired by the experience of Justin Perez, a former American Sign Language instructor at The University of Alabama. Perez is a fifth-generation Deaf person and has traveled the country teaching classes and workshops on the performance art called visual vernacular.

According to Perez, visual vernacular is a way of storytelling through gestures and pictures and can be effective in communicating with all people.

“It doesn’t matter who I’m talking to—deaf people or hearing people,” he said. “It’s a very easy way of communication and understanding, and it’s just really a part of me.”

You can view the winning short documentary here and learn more about Perez’s story here.

The short documentary was one of six Southeast Emmy nominations for The University of Alabama’s CPT. Four additional College of Communication and Information Sciences (C&IS) students were members of nominated production teams: Montana Maniscalco (Moody, AL); Mack McCollum (Pelham, AL); Nathan Stephenson (Birmingham, AL); and Reagan Wells from (Colombia, MO). The other nominated projects from CPT are listed below.

  • Life is So Delicious: Seth Farmer, Will Green, Reagan Wells*
  • Movie Guy: Seth Farmer, Will Green and Nathan Stephenson*
  • The Forum: Seth Farmer, Nathan Stephenson*, Will Green and Communication Studies associate professor Dr. Darrin Griffin
  • The Hurricane Creekkeeper: Will Green, Seth Farmer, Mack McCollum* and Montana Maniscalco*
  • Tuscaloosa Bicentennial: Seth Farmer, Will Green and Reagan Wells*

(* denotes C&IS students)

Southeast Emmy entries are judged by the National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences.